The Oxpecker and the Giraffe

Tonight on our walk, Chica asked me plainly, “Mom, do you know what a symbiotic relationship is?”

I had a pretty good guess, but I wanted to see what she thought it meant.  I knew right away this is something she had picked up from Wild Kratts.  (Thank you GOD we are occasionally hearing about something other than My Little Ponies these days.)  Anyway, her definition wasn’t quite correct (“when one animal picks something else off another animal”), but her example was spot on.  She told me about the oxpecker that picks bugs off of a rhinoceros.  I had to check it out, but she’s exactly right.  Still not quite five, but already smarter than me.  Sheesh.

All day I’ve been intending to write about collapsible baby legs and the moment in which I really lost it this morning.  Now I’m thinking that symbiotic relationships are somehow related to my mini major meltdown, so let’s see if I can work my way back around there by the time I’m done.

There’s a parenting rule that I forget over and over:  Don’t ever start to think you may be early for any occasion, because this will invariably cause something to happen that will make you late.  Maybe you’ll have to send out a search party for the left shoe of the kid that only owns one pair of shoes.  Or maybe after four passes by the mirror, you’ll admit that the snot on your shoulder (not your own, of course) is, in fact visible, and you’ll have to change shirts.  Or, like today, maybe one kid will decide that the best time to have a dirty diaper of epic proportions is the moment you are putting on coats to head out the door.  Don’t ever think you’re going to be early.

So I admit I was already angry while changing his diaper.  We were going to leave after our goal of 7:30…again.  But then he just Wouldn’t. Stay. Down.  All my usual tricks (a toy, a book, a song, dirty looks, brute force) weren’t working, and as he cried more and fought harder, my frustration just grew.  I somehow managed to wrangle the clean diaper on him, and decided to go ahead and let him stand while I finished with his pants and shoes.

collapseGrowing up, my grandma had a giraffe toy with a button on the bottom.  When you pushed the button, the giraffe would collapse in a limp pile.  Right then and there, after probably three minutes of fighting to stand up, Bubba did a perfect imitation of the collapsed giraffe.  “You want me to stand up?  Nah.  I think I’ll lay down now, thankyouverymuch.”

So the next few minutes are a blur.  Chica, get your shoes on.  No, for the millionth time, you cannot take a doll in the car because you’ll forget it like the other 17 toys that are already there.  Chica, find your coat.  Where did I put my phone?  Chica, find your coat.  No, Bubba, we cannot read a book right now.  Don’t take your hat off.  Chica, PUT.  ON.  YOUR.  COAT.

All I know for sure is that I was standing at the top of the steps, holding everyone’s bags, trying to take down the baby gate, and Bubba did the giraffe imitation again.  I tried to pick him up, and he was still the giraffe.  And crying.  And I still don’t think Chica had her coat on.  (Sorry….way too many ands in a row, I know.)

Three inches from his face I yell scream, “STOP IT!”

Yeah.  So I totally know that screaming at a crying, flailing sixteen month old is only going to make him cry and flail even more.  Pretty much the only thing it did accomplish was scaring the helloutta Chica and make her get in the car quickly.  With her coat on.

But here’s the thing…  Often when I get angry at my kids, I take deep breaths, speak (mostly) calmly, and seem pretty composed on the outside.  But on the inside I’m screaming mean, ugly, curse word laden rants that I think would fix the problem fast.  And make me feel better.

Today when I let that stuff fly, it only fixed half of the problem—Chica and her coat.  I still had to carry a flailing, screaming giraffe to the car under my arm like a sack of potatoes.  But me?  I felt worse.  Way worse.  And Bubba?  He never cries when I drop him off at school.  Really never.  Today he did.  You know it’s connected.

So maybe we’re back to the oxpecker and rhino and symbiotic relationships.  I know they need me.  They need me to remind them not to run down our sloping sidewalk, or explain what adoption means, or navigate how to make friends and keep them.

But Chica’s crazy, random question has reminded me that I need them too.  Today I needed them to help point out an area in my life where I still have a wholelotta room to grow towards Christ-likeness.

Gracious.  Compassionate.  Slow to anger.  Rich in love.   I need that.

They need that from me too.

How about you?  Any oxpecking happening at your house lately?



I Used To Want To Be Like You

Most days I am just delighted that Chica gets to go to the same school as me.  I enjoy the funny conversations she carries on early in the morning with my friends who make over her each day.  I look forward to lunch and extra recess time because I might catch her eye and give her an “Air Fist Bump Explosion”, our not-so-secret long distance hand shake we decided on at the beginning of the year.  I’m thankful too for little glimpses into her budding friendships with a rainbow of classmates.  But every once in a while it’s hard.

This afternoon I was feeling a little more pressure than normal because I knew my 8:15 meeting tomorrow morning would cut into my usual prep time.  Chica was flitting around my room sharpening pencils, laying on our exercise balls, and snacking on two leftover bags of Cheerios at the same time.  Some days when she hangs out in my room after school she is completely focused on something, and I hear nothing from her.  Last week I got at least three solid days of peace from a bag of dried beans and a few imitation Beanie Babies.  Today was a different story.

I’m definitely not proud of this moment, but here’s how it went down…

Chica finds a number balance on the counter and the floodgates open, pouring out the questions in full force.  Picture me at my computer organizing a pile of checks and receipts for our field trip, giving Chica only about 1/32 of my attention.

Chica:  What’s this?
Me:  It’s a balance.
Chica:  What’s a balance?
Me:  It’s a math thing.
Chica:  What’s it do?
Me:  Math.
Chica:  What’s this arrow for?
Me:  I don’t know.
Chica:  What’s this red part for?
Me:  I don’t know.
Chica:  Is the 10 a secret?
Me:  What?  I don’t know what you are talking about.
Chica:  The 10’s a secret, right?
Me:  I don’t know.
Chica:  What’s this thing called again?
Me:  A balance.
Chica:  Why do you have it?
Me:  (Thinking…maybe if I ignore her, she’ll stop.)
Chica:  How do you work it?
Chica:  What’s this white part for?
Chica:  Why does it have this?
Me:  I don’t know.  I don’t know.  I. DON’T. KNOW.  You are making me CRAZY.  You are really making me really really crazy.  I have work to do and you are asking me a million questions and I can’t concentrate and you are making me crazy so can you please just stop the questions so I can work?  Find something quiet to do that doesn’t involve asking so many questions.  PLEASE!

Yeah.  So, I really did say that.  Ouch.

Apparently she gets the picture, and the questions stop, but next I hear from behind me the clickety-clack of her fingers on the keyboard.

Chica:  (Composing an e-mail aloud as she types…)  Dear Mrs. Proffitt,  I used to want to be like you, but now I don’t want to be like you.

Yep.  She really did say that.  Double ouch.

At some other point today Chica and I talked about forgiveness.  She wanted to know if I would always always forgive her, not matter what “bad stuff” she did.  I told her I would, and I hoped sincerely that I will keep my promise to her on that one.  I forgave her today for asking a million questions, and she forgave me for yelling.  Phew.

I’m thankful tonight that I can count on always always being forgiven by the only perfect parent that exists….no matter what “bad stuff” I do.

Little Bit of Weeble

We were that family today.  You know, the one with the kid throwing the major tantrum in the children’s museum when it was time to go.  A face to the floor, fists pounding the carpet, whining like a fire truck tantrum.  Yep….that family.

And for a minute, I did nothing.

I’ve been thinking lately about the decisions that we make as parents.  I had an important decision to make when that tantrum happened, but they aren’t all that hard.  I think most of the decisions we have to make in a day boil down to one of these types:

1.  Duh Decisions.  These are the cut and dry decisions where any novice would know what to do.  Like earlier this week when I was doing laundry and letting Bubba crawl around in the bathroom.  (It’s either that or try to fold one handed…don’t judge.)  He figured out how to open the drawers and promptly comes up with the refill pack for Jay’s razors.  What to do?  Well…duh….drop the laundry and sprint, take it from him, check the drawer for any other life-threatening objects, and carry on.  Easy.

2.  It Doesn’t Matter (AKA Choose Your Battles) Decisions.  These decisions are just a step harder than the Duh kind.  There’s a little more ambivalence involved, but usually not great consequences either way.   In our house a whole lot of these decisions seem to revolve around fashion choices lately.  This week Grandma bought a ridiculously poufy pink tutu dress for Chica, and it has been next to impossible to pry it off of her.  Chica wanted to know if she could wear it to the rehab center to visit her great grandmother.  I was worried that we may get a few, “What was that mom thinking?” stares, but in the end I decided the meltdown we would have had over removing it would have been much worse.  With Jay’s help, I chose not to fight that battle, and I think we chose wisely this time.  Mema’s next door neighbor, a (somewhat creepy) old man, sure got a kick out of her!

3.  I Know What to Do But I’m Going to Do the Wrong Thing Anyway Decisions (The Bad Kind).  It seems like all day long I’m living this:  “What I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate, I do.”  What I want is to do is give plenty of time for Chica to become a self-sufficient four year old who can, for example, dress herself, tie her shoes, clean up after herself, and buckle herself in the car.  But I don’t do that.  Instead I snap, “Hurry up!” 127 times a day, even when there is nowhere to rush to.  This rushed attitude isn’t much help for creating self-sufficiency.  I know the right thing to do, but I just make the wrong decisions over and over.

4.  I Know What to Do But I’m Going to Do the Wrong Thing Anyway Decisions (The Good Kind).  You know, there are sometimes when the wrong thing turns out to be right.  My favorite example?  Frozen yogurt for dinner.   It’s 5:00.  I’m out with two cranky kids, and I pass that beautiful pink and green palace that is Sweet Frog.  The right thing to do is to go home and fix a balanced meal for us, but yet another meal of veggie burgers and canned baked beans this week just isn’t doing it for me.  So I surprise everyone, and we eat yogurt topped with gummy bears and gummy worms for dinner instead.  Kids, both my own and my students, get a kick out of adults breaking the rules every once in a while.  That’s the kind of stuff memories are made of.

5.  Heck If I Know.  So we’re back to the four year old laying prostrate in the basement of the museum.  I’m holding Bubba who is now asleep in that perfect drunk-on-milk way, and there are families all around.  My choices are 1) Yell at her.  The fire truck noise she is making is pretty loud, so it’s unlikely she’ll hear me anyway.  2) Ignore it.  Then all of the moms around will talk about me over dinner, and she’ll think that’s okay to do again next time.  3)  Snatch her up and whisper very threatening things in her ear.  Then I risk waking Bubba, and I’d have two screaming children on my hands.  4) Something else I haven’t thought of yet.  Wait for it, and hope it comes.

So in that moment, I just sat there frozen because I honestly didn’t know what the right way to respond was.   I’ve been having these moments more and more lately as Chica gets older.  I’m sure I’m not the first one to discover this, but it hit me today that there is a direct relationship between a child’s age and the difficulty in parenting decisions involved.  Like how to help her with mean girls, and what to do when I see her being the mean girl right back. (She’s four…sheesh….too soon!)   Or just what to do when she can articulate, “Mom, I know how to keep myself safe,” but I think there’s more risk involved than what she really sees.   These decisions paralyze me and confuse me and wish she came with a manual.

In the end, I just waited through a very long, uncomfortable moment.  When she caught my eye, I stuck out my five fingers and began counting down.  Thankfully she’s still scared of whatever she thinks might happen if I do make it to zero, and she reluctantly got up.  I saved my lecture for the car.  She apologized.  I forgave her.


So I’ve sat here for too long now trying to think of some wise way to end today’s rambling thoughts.  I’ve decided I’m too much in the middle of it to have anything truly wise to say.   When I had to make today’s “Heck If I Know” decision, things turned out alright…about as good as I could have hoped.  But I know there are times that I’m going to choose incorrectly in those frozen moments, and I just have to trust that our kids are created with a little bit of weeble in them.  They’ll bounce back.

Jumping On of Heads

Sunday afternoon nap.

Ah, sweet, glorious, holy Sunday afternoon nap.  I use it as justification for staying up much too late on Saturday night.  I dream about it when I happen to just “rest my eyes” in church that morning.  I miss it dearly during the school year when I have no choice but to grade papers all afternoon in order to stay afloat.

At lunch today I politely decreed to my little family that I was going to take a nap no matter what.  I didn’t care who had to do what to make it happen, but I was getting one.  After two different tries to convince Bubba of this fact, my time finally came.  It was sweet and glorious and holy just like all Sunday afternoon naps should be.

But it was short lived.  You see, I was jolted awake by the following conversation in the next room:

Jay (in his loud, I’m really serious voice):  I am NOT laughing.  What did you do that for?
Chica:  (Silence)
Jay:  You jumped on my head, and didn’t even give me any warning!  You’ve got to think!(Grunting, shuffling, and obviously leaving the room for effect.)

Twenty seconds or so pass.  I’m caught between laughing at the picture I have in my head of what just happened and praying that Bubba will not be woken.  Come on, people.  My nap is at stake here.

I hear Jay reenter the room and Chica start that low, slow cry that means she is really heartbroken.  The one that is preceded by five seconds of silence and a really awful look on her face.

Jay:  Why are you crying?
Chica:  You made me cry.
Jay:  Why did I make you cry?
Chica:  (Through sobs…)  Your voice was really mad.
Jay:  Well, yeah, it was mad.  You jumped on my head.  What did you think would happen?

I missed whatever happened next because Bubba did in fact wake up, chipper as ever.  Nap over.  Thanks for playing.

But here’s the part that still leaves me confused….even more confused than wondering how exactly she executed her attack.  Less than a minute later, their conversation was back to normal.  She had moved on to asking for batteries for some toy that had long been forgotten.  Listening to their voices, it was like it had never happened.

See, if that had been me, I would certainly still be pouting at the one minute mark.  Heck, I was pouting at the one minute mark, lamenting the fact that my nap was over….and it didn’t even happen to me.  Had it been me, there would have been plenty of evil-eye-mean-teacher looks and probably some go-to-your-room-and-think-about-it time.   He just forgave her.  Forgave her and moved on.

Neither of us has the “slow to anger” thing figured out quite yet, but he is defintiely better at avoiding grudges than I am.  I want that.  Instead I huff and puff and grump around just to make my point.  Chica has taken to sheepishly asking, “Are you happy, Mom?” when she sees me do this.  I guess this is her way of saying, “I am sorry.  Can we be done with this now?”  More times than not this serves as a good reminder that it’s time to act like the Mommy that Jesus wants me to be, suck it up, forgive her, and move on.

So I’m doing that right now.  Yes, Chica, I am happy.  It’s ok that my nap was cut short.  There are still plenty of Sundays left in the summer.

Just next time, please, give your daddy a little warning, ok?